Thon Maker's mark: Mystery man believes he's lottery pick

WALTHAM, Mass. -- When Thon Maker completed his pre-draft workout with the Boston Celtics on Thursday afternoon, he was asked what he's learned over the course of eight stops on what he expects to be at least an 11-team shuffle leading up to draft night.

"That I’m pretty good," Maker answered with a smile. "Yeah, I’m pretty good. I’m blessed to be in this situation. So I just got to continue to keep on working."

Dubbed an international man of mystery, Maker -- a 7-foot-1 big man born in Sudan, raised in Australia, and groomed recently in Canada -- hopes his pre-draft circuit confirms his belief that he is a lottery pick. Once the nation's top recruit while playing at Carlisle School in Martinsville, Virginia, Maker spent the past two years playing high school hoops in Ontario and, deemed draft eligible after graduating from Orangeville Prep in 2015, he'll be a rare North American product to make the leap directly to the NBA since the league blocked the prep-to-pro route a decade ago.

There have been lingering questions about Maker's age and whether he's truly 19. When asked how he responds to that accusation, Maker dipped into New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick's lexicon and offered, "It is what it is."

Maker says he never cared about being the nation's top recruit, but he's clearly trying to sell himself to NBA evaluators since he skipped the college path.

"I didn't care too much about being ranked No. 1 or whatever. I just cared about getting better at all times," said Maker. "There were times when I moved to Canada and nobody spoke about me, so that's the same way I have to look at it. Nobody is speaking about you, and you have to find a way to keep getting better. I did, and that's how I got to this point.

"[Canada] definitely was good for me. Because it helped me realize what I needed to do to continue to keep getting better. And to keep people thinking about me, just continue to keep on getting better. Canada allowed me to do that. I got stronger and just played all sorts of different positions, and I’m able to use those right now."

Maker sits 19th on Chad Ford's latest Big Board (having moved up five spots). Thursday's workout in Boston pitted him against two other first-round-caliber big men, Juan Hernangomez and Damian Jones.

Celtics director of player personnel Austin Ainge, always careful not to reveal too much from a private pre-draft session, said Maker "played very well, played very hard. Loved his intensity today."

Ainge said the team has seen Maker play three or four times in the scouting process and observed him at various stages of his development.

"He’s been known to us for quite a while," said Ainge. "Very highly rated high school guy, and he’s participated in a ton of camps -- Basketball Without Borders, two or three different camps run by the NBA, a few different shoe company camps. He was at the Treviso EuroCamp last year. So he’s been around quite a bit. Obviously, didn’t get to see him play in college or at a European pro level, but we have had a chance to see him quite a bit."

The lack of experience against college or European pro talent makes it tougher for league executives to gauge exactly where Maker projects in this year's draft.

"It’s always hard for anybody. It’s hard for college freshmen, even," said Ainge. "That’s the NBA draft -- we take some guys as projects, and we have before. Sometimes you want the more ready-made guy, but that’s the decision-making process. It’s hard to choose between those types of guys."

Ainge admitted that Thursday's workout was probably the most competitive situation in which the Celtics have seen Maker. Asked how he fared against his draft-eligible competition, Ainge said only, "He played well."

Added Ainge: "I think with young players, we’re looking at tools, right? You hear it a lot in baseball, but in basketball -- do they have height, length, what’s their skill level, what’s their competitiveness, their drive. We know that they’re not finished products. All young players, college freshmen, high school kids, European youngsters, we’re trying to look at the tools and try to imagine as best we can three or four years from now what they’re going to look like."

Maker said his goal Thursday was to show that he could hold his own against comparable big men, especially in regards to toughness.

"I think I might be ahead defensively, because I take pride in getting stops," said Maker, whose biggest criticism might simply be his slim frame and uncertainty about his position at the NBA level. "My offense, it's catching up pretty fast, but that's because I'm getting a lot of reps in. In these workouts, you are getting a chance to show both, so by me having a chance to show offense at the same time, it's helping me get better. I'm not worried about making mistakes in these workouts, so I'm definitely getting better."

Maker said the learning curve in jumping straight to the NBA does not discourage him.

"It’s very interesting, the learning part of it," said Maker. "Picking coaches’ brains, seeing Mr. [Danny] Ainge, he was very active. [On Wednesday] night, I was getting shots up and he was there on the floor and he was very excited. He’s so into basketball. I love that. That was kind of motivating also."